Job Quality Indicators » Job Demands

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Barely a day goes by without hearing a co-worker, friend or family member complain about being overworked. For most of us, having a reasonable workload is an important aspect of a good job. While having too little work is boring and can cause financial hardship, having too much work is a recipe for stress, which is bad for a person’s health and well-being over the longer-term. Determining what’s a reasonable workload is the subject of on-going discussions and negotiations between workers, employers, unions, and professional associations. Generally speaking, it means having enough time to do your job well, being able to balance work and personal life and not constantly feeling stressed or frenzied.

Work Overload: Little Variation by Gender or Age 

Source: CPRN - EKOS Changing Employment Relationships Survey (2000).


The work lives of many Canadians fall short of this ideal. As shown above, almost one-fifth (18 percent) of employed Canadians say that they "often" or "very often" have difficulty keeping up with their workload. There is little difference in this respect between men and women, or between paid employees and self-employed workers. Younger workers are less likely to feel overworked than those over age 25.


By Occupation

Work Overload: Managers And Those In Health Occupations Most Likely To Feel Overworked

Source: CPRN - EKOS Changing Employment Relationships Survey (2000).


The extent to which people have trouble keeping up with their workload varies noticeably by occupation. More than one-quarter of all managers and health care workers often or very often having difficulty keeping up, as do just under one-quarter of those in various professional occupations (e.g. natural, applied and social sciences). People in these occupations are often referred to as ‘knowledge workers’, reflecting their relatively high skill levels and education. This is important to note, because it shows that workload problems are a result of excessive demands, rather than a worker’s lack of skills. And for managers and health care workers, the key issue in workload is the demanding nature of their work itself – a point seen in the indicators on work hours. By comparison, a much lower percentage of individuals in arts and culture, sales and service, and processing and manufacturing jobs have difficulty keeping up with their workload.

By Size of Workplace

Work Overload: Workload Increases With Firm Size

Source: CPRN - EKOS Changing Employment Relationships Survey (2000).


Workloads also vary across workplace size, as 24 per cent of employees in large workplaces (500 or more employees) say they often or very often have difficulty keeping up, compared with 14 percent of individuals in small workplaces. This may be the result the staff reductions and restructuring in large corporations and public sector organizations throughout the 1990s that created a ‘doing more with less’ work culture. This raises a potential problem for employers to consider: many organizations pruned the ranks of management while at the same time expanded the scope of managers’ responsibilities, thus making their jobs more complex. This helps explain managers’ long hours and heavy workloads. It also could be the reason other workers also face these issues – overworked managers raise the bar for all their staff.

By Outcomes

Work Overload: Heavy Workloads Often Spill Into The Home

Source: CPRN - EKOS Changing Employment Relationships Survey (2000).


Workers confronted by heavy workloads develop ways of coping, for better or worse. One obvious coping strategy, shown in the chart above, is for individuals who have difficulty keeping up with their work to take some of it home with them. This has become easier to do, given that Canada is one of the world’s most ‘wired’ nations, with the majority of homes having personal computers and Internet connections. But there are personal costs to taking one’s work home as it cuts into the amount of time one has for family and friends and for oneself.


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